January 4, 2002

Opposition wants to win in parliament

Zambian opposition parties said on Friday, January 4, they would take their fight against newly elected president Levy Mwanawasa to parliament, where the combined opposition has a slender majority. Ten opposition parties have accused the ruling Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) of fixing the presidential election for Mwanawasa, who was sworn in on January 2, after a narrow win: Mwanawasa won the election with only 28.7 percent of votes cast. His closest rival Anderson Mazoka garnered 26.7 percent of the votes from 148 of 150 constituencies. EU as well as US monitors said in a report that there had been glaring irregularities in the elections.

Opposition leaders said they still planned mass protests and court challenges, but that the next battleground was parliament. "Clearly, parliament is the next stage to flex our muscles," said Edith Nawakwi, vice-president of the Forum for Democracy and Development (FDD) opposition party. "While we are pursuing the other avenues, which is the law and civil protests, we have to use our slim parliamentary advantage to make it difficult for Mwanawasa to rule."

"The first battle is for the control of parliament. If we, the opposition, vote as a block, we will get a speaker and his deputy," said Robbie Makayi, spokesman for the United Party for National Democracy (UPND). "That way, with UPND as the official opposition leader, we can control the legislative agenda," he said. The new parliament must be convene by January 25, when the 2002 budget is due to be presented by a new finance minister. The budget will be a major test for Mwanawasa because it requires parliament's approval. If it fails, then Mwanawasa must by law dissolve the assembly and call elections within 90 days. "Mwanawasa faces a bruising time in parliament over the budget. It will define his presidency," said prominent Lusaka lawyer and political commentator Mutembo Nchito.

Meanwhile, Mwanawasa sets to work on a new government on Thursday, January 8, with an uncompromising attitude towards opponents planning nationwide street protests over the vote that brought him to power. "I intend to make the law the principle guide of the state, not men. Everyone must follow the law and no-one will be allowed to circumvent or break it with impunity," he added. Mwanawasa warned opposition leaders to call off mass demonstrations or face the full force of the law. He told Reuters that street protests against his election bordered on treason and police would proceed as deemed fit with offenders.

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